Archive for March, 2021

Fear and Loathing in the Confessional

March 30, 2021

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” John 20:21-23

The work of the Church is declaring the good news of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ to those wracked with guilt and desirous of change. Often this gets abbreviated to just telling people about Jesus, but the crucial matter is what you tell them. If you tell them only that Jesus loves them, and never tell them of their sin and need for forgiveness, you haven’t shared the full story. If you only introduce them to the historical figure of Jesus without ever telling them why this historical figure matters to their lives unlike any other historical figure, you haven’t shared the full story. For someone who can see their sinfulness, their need for sin and forgiveness, the most beautiful part of the story is that this is exactly why Jesus is relevant to them. This is what Jesus brings them that nobody else can. And the Church is to be the place marked by both the proclamation of this reality and the actual forgiving of sins.

So when the Church (or a particular parish or priest) refuses to offer forgiveness to those desiring it, there’s a serious problem. An issue in one Roman Catholic parish in New Jersey recently due to the pandemic. Due to complications arising from properly disinfecting surfaces in the confessional – the small cabinet traditionally used in Roman Catholic churches to screen the penitent from the priest and allow them to confess their sins and receive absolution – a priest refused to allow un-vaccinated people to come to Confession, one of the sacraments of the Roman Catholic church.

People are understandably somewhat frightened and weary of COVID. But refusing to absolve repentant sinners is a gross failure of an ordained priest, and one rightly corrected by ecclesiastical supervisors.

The irony here is that the prohibition against any un-vaccinated person coming to Confession was ostensibly for their own “protection”. However to not receive forgiveness is a far greater danger to a person’s well-being than COVID, with potentially eternal ramifications!

Now, I’m not Roman Catholic and I do not necessarily agree with their traditional practice of Confession, or their understanding of the need and role for penance in receiving forgiveness. But if you’re going to tell people their forgiveness is dependent on Confession, and forgiveness is the means of eternal life, and then you refuse to hear their confessions, there’s a dangerous problem at play here!

Thankfully the situation was rectified quickly.

Silencing Dissent

March 29, 2021

Thanks to Ken for this Wall Street Journal article discussing how social media companies censor religious speech and even eliminate accounts and access to their platforms when it disagrees with vaguely defined rules against fake news or simply contradicts the cultural narrative they prefer to reinforce and support. This means affirming the inherent value of all life (contra abortion or euthanasia) or other traditional and ancient religious views may be grounds for content being banned or deleted. The appeal process in such a situation is by no means clear or guaranteed to result in a restoration of access or content.

A good reminder that while free speech remains a Constitutional freedom, when private companies hold monopoly-level power over digital communication that freedom becomes a technicality. Private companies are not bound to respect freedom of speech and are free to impose their own limitations on what sorts of statements and content are permitted. While they will find politically correct descriptions for these limitations, the effect is further limiting the expression of viewpoints held by a large (perhaps even majority) proportion of our nation.

Again, I urge people to reconsider supporting these platforms and their monopolies through continued membership and usage, whether it costs you anything or not. Between the blatant bias against conservative, traditional Biblical Christian beliefs and the increasingly egregious collection of personal data, the corresponding benefits of such social media giants (and other tech companies such as Google) become questionable, at best. It’s ironic and sad that Google, a company whose motto was originally Don’t Be Evil has come to represent some of the most questionable practices in terms of gathering data on the people who use it’s products.

Making wise choices is not easy, nor is it guaranteed to be easy or inexpensive.

Reading Ramblings – Easter Sunday

March 28, 2021

Date: Easter Sunday – April 4, 2021

Texts: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 16; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

Context: He is risen! He is risen indeed! Allelluia! Victory over those who opposed God’s perfect love and will – first spiritually with Lucifer and his followers, and then eventually humanity and creation through the Fall. Any who thought they could better God’s plan are shown to be what they always had to be – grossly in error. God alone holds all wisdom and knowledge as well as power and love. In the unlikely and unexpected death of the Incarnate Son of God, God does not destroy his wayward creation but throws open the doors to grace and forgiveness and hope. Reconciliation is made possible on the only terms that could ever exist – God’s terms. Through trust and hope in God’s promises to us on the cross and in the empty tomb all are invited out of rebellion, to lay down arms and sing the praises of God who alone could make such reconciliation possible. What God promised to do in the beginning (Genesis 3:15) and continued to promise to his people for thousands of years is fulfilled. We await the final consummation, the return of our crucified and resurrected Lord. The victory is already won – now we’re waiting for the victory celebration to begin!

Isaiah 25:6-9 – The promises of God are not narrow and skimpy. They do not hedge and trim and cut corners. They are broad and endlessly generous! God intends not just the preservation and salvation of his chosen people of Israel, but that the blessings conveyed to them would in turn pour out into all of creation. All peoples (v.6) are to be included in the invitation to these blessings, blessings carefully spelled out in detail so we can almost smell the bounty from here! The universal covering over all people – death – will be swallowed up and no more. Tears will be dried, never to pour out again in suffering and grief in the face of death. And the reproach, the stigma, the disgust the world marks God’s people with will be removed once and for all. In that day there will be no discussion of relative or comparative merit. This feast is not on our behalf. We are the invited guests of our Lord and Savior at the celebratory feast of and for God the Father, who will himself be vindicated from any and all claims that He is not truly good, wise, and powerful. Those who trust in him will be shown to have been right all along. He is risen!

Psalm 16 – A love song where the speaker describes his feelings for God. It begins with a standard call for help – but the rest of the psalm never mentions this again. There is no elaboration. It is as though the speaker were interrupted at the end of verse 1 by God himself, asking the speaker to clarify to God how he feels about God. In verse 2, the speaker begins articulating the nature of his relationship to God. God is the source of every good thing in the speaker’s life. The speaker is not alone in this relationship – there are others in the larger community who share this relationship with God and therefore they are more delightful to be with for the speaker than anyone else. Not that there aren’t other options out there, idols and false gods to sacrifice to and call on – but the speaker will have none of that. Why? Because the Lord has blessed him richly (vs.5-6), and even were there such a thing as other gods, they could not provide for the speaker any better than God himself has. Some of these things might be evident to any observer of the speaker, but his relationship to God goes deeper – God instructs him so diligently and thoroughly that even during the night as he sleeps, he is being instructed by God, and his heart responds in love and joy. God is present for the speaker here and now (v.8), and as such the speaker has no fear. He knows the Lord preserves him and will continue to do so. The blessings of God are not simply for this lifetime but for all eternity (v.11).

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 – Modern scholarship is dismissive of much of what the Church professes to be written by St. Paul, but these verses here are almost universally acknowledged to be Paul’s words. As such they are instructive for the wealth of information they tell us about the early Church and what it proclaimed – namely the prophesies fulfilled in the death of the anointed one, the Messiah/Christ, who did not remain dead and buried but showed himself alive again to hundreds of witnesses. Paul’s intent is clear – don’t simply take his word for it, ask around! There are plenty of witnesses (this letter being written less than 30 years after the events) who can testify that Paul speaks the truth. It is this resurrection of of the Son of God that provides hope to sinners, delivering to them grace rather than judgment. This grace is transformative here and now, as Paul can well attest to personally! And that grace can, by the power of God, work mightily in even the lowliest of believers, the darkest of repentant sinners. This was the essence of Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians, and it should still form their core identities. It should still be their assurance even though Paul has had to correct them on numerous issues in this letter. And therefore it should still be your hope and mine!

Mark 16:1-8 – Mark’s account of the resurrection is quick and to the point, just like the rest of his Gospel. Though we assume the latter half of Chapter 16 is not original with Mark, the first eight verses are well attested to in antiquity. The second Mary mentioned in v.2 is understood to be Jesus’ mother, who is mother also of James (and Joses, as per 15:47, which would make these men mentioned also in 6:3 Jesus’ brothers). The women obtained spices or scented oils (the language makes it clear it is a liquid) after the Sabbath ended Saturday evening, and made their way to the tomb early the morning after Sabbath, Sunday. Jesus was in the tomb from before the Sabbath/start of the day on Friday, then all Sabbath day, and then into the first hours of the day after Sabbath – late Saturday-to early morning Sunday. Jesus did likely not rise at dawn or just after sunset but probably in the pre-light hours of Sunday morning.

But why the abrupt ending, an ending that seems open-ended – some translators as They were afraid, you know. I like the interpretation that says Mark does this intentionally, writing to Christians several decades later who are already experiencing persecutions. Christians who are suffering simply for believing all of this is true. Christians who might be inclined (like us?) to think that if only we had been there and seen these events ourselves, it would be easier, there would be no need for fear. We could confidently and joyfully endure anything.

No, Mark says. Those who were there that first Easter morning? They were afraid too, you know. Fear is not limited to those who did not see and hear Jesus personally, even those who knew him best – even his own mother – were afraid. Our fear does not make us lesser believers. Our fear binds our sinful human hearts with all the sinful human hearts before and after us. Sinful human hearts who nonetheless, trembling and fearfully at times, put their faith and trust in the account of Jesus’ resurrection, and trusted that what He promised them was true – He would come for them to take them to be with him (John 14:1-12). Fear does not make us unfaithful, but we must cling to our faith in spite of the fear, in defiance of it.

Even Peter who denied Jesus vehemently three times a few days earlier was not to be excluded from the promises of the resurrected Christ! Jesus specifically names and specifies Peter. How much more so should you and I trust that this good news is for us! He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Reading Ramblings – Palm Sunday

March 21, 2021

Date: Palm Sunday – March 28, 2021

Texts: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 118:19-28; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

Context: Palm Sunday is one of the great Sundays of the Church year, with a long history in both Eastern and Western Christendom, and processions are an ancient part of this day’s celebrations. Palms are a sign of victory in many cultures, as they are used in the reading to denote Jesus’ victorious entry to Jerusalem. But victory over what becomes the question. His opposers feared his victory was an ill-advised attempt to overthrow Roman rule, something that would inevitably end not with only Jesus’ own death but the death of hundreds and perhaps thousands of others. Did those who waved the palms that morning have such a victory in mind? Perhaps. Perhaps they were caught up in the excitement of God at work, doing something He had told his people to watch and wait for, and were much shorter on actual specifics of what that would look like. Perhaps it was enough to welcome Jesus as a prophet, as the speaker of God’s Word after a long period of divine silence. What is it we welcome Jesus for today, and how do we imagine his presence will and should change our lives here and now rather than simply in eternity?

Zechariah 9:9-12 – Zechariah is a post-exilic prophet, one who returns with God’s people to Jerusalem and helps in the rebuilding of the Temple (Ezra 5:1, 6:14; Nehemiah 12:16). Nehemiah indicates Zechariah is the head of a priestly house, confirming that the roles of priest and prophet sometimes overlapped. Chapter 9 of Zechariah begins a curious prophetic progression dealing more with end of times prophesy than short-term prophetic material and history as dealt with in Chapters 1-8. The emphasis of our verses today is not so much the ending of the old way, but the start of a new day. There is no emphasis on the struggle which achieved this victorious, kingly entry, beyond the cryptic language in verse 11 regarding the blood of my covenant with you. Zechariah and his hearers may have interpreted this as referring to the blood bonds at Mt. Sinai in Exodus, but now we know this is only a foreshadowing of the blood that forms the new covenant, the blood of the Son of God poured out in sacrifice for creation.

Psalm 118:19-28 – Many scholars divide the psalms into five sections or books, and Psalm 118 falls into the fifth such grouping. This particular psalm has two main sections, vs. 5-18 and 19-28. Verses 5-18 are an individual’s praises to God in testimony to the gathered community of the faithful. The second section is more a song of thanksgiving after being rescued from some dangerous situation. There is a dialogue, in which someone speaks, is responded to, and is spoken about. The particulars of the situation are vague, so the psalm is appropriate under a variety of conditions and situations. However vs. 17-18 indicate the seriousness of the situation, literally life and death. But within the liturgical context of Palm Sunday, these words take on another aspect, an aspect completely unique to the completely unique person and work of the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Christ, who gives himself into death on our behalf, but lives in spite of his death and burial. He has suffered for our transgressions, but now lives to attest to the Father’s grace and mercy through his blood and death.

Philippians 2:5-11 – Christ’s attitude is to be our own. These are not poetic words, these are not artistic exageration but a call to suffering and sacrifice, to a constant attitude of humility rather than pride and self-exaltation. This is not our own work or will. It is only possible in Christ Jesus (v.5), and therefore is the exclusive expectation and domain of the follower of Christ. Only in Christ does such an intentional rejection of self-seeking make sense. Only knowing what we have received in and through Christ can we find the strength and joy to forego other forms of personal glory. Paul reiterates the humility and suffering of Jesus not just as a history lesson but as instructive to us. What should we not be willing to suffer, so that we may be like our Lord? And if such is the intention and effort of every believer, what lengths shouldn’t fellow-believers go to to ensure the care and love of each member, rather than seeking to take advantage of them as the world will? There will be no shortage of non-believers who seek to benefit themselves at a Christian’s expense, but in the body of Christ, where each is seeking to live out this humility and knows full well the costs that can sometimes require, how much love and care and charity there should be, that the body itself might never be the source of pain or damage to any part!

Mark 14:1-15:47The longest continual reading of the liturgical year, the Palm Sunday gospel leads us from the day or so before Jesus’ betrayal to his death and burial. We traverse the dizzying heights of his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, through the growing tension of the days until He celebrates his last Passover with his disciples and is arrested, executed and buried. Palm Sunday isas though we look out over the expanse of Holy Week from a high place and see it all – all except Easter, of course. Easter is so bright and dazzling it would blind us to everything else if it were included. And so it waits for the proper time in order to receive the proper glory. Only in a journey into the Valley of the Shadow of Death with our Lord can we truly appreciate the relief of his Easter morning victory!

This panoramic reading leads us through Maundy Thursday to the end of Good Friday. It should whet our appetites to consider all this week will bring, and all our Lord has done on our behalf. Vigil on Holy Saturday evening will herald our Lord’s victory over sin, death and Satan, a victory we will proclaim together in joy on Easter morning! It may be preferable by many people to skip Thursday and Friday and Saturday as too depressing, but they are every bit as real as Easter morning. More real, in some ways, because we can so easily relate to themes of betrayal, suffering, death and burial. These are our realities, and all the more so as we grow older. Easter is the contrast to our empathy, the counter-intuitive assertion that these realities we know so well and our Lord experienced as well are not the final word in our lives and identities. That final Word belongs to our Lord alone,who will call us from our graves with a command of power when He returns, and welcome his faithful into eternal glory.


March 17, 2021

One year ago I was driving out of Las Vegas. My buddy had just placed third in the world in his division after a multi-day battle. COVID panic was setting in and already the shelves in Las Vegas grocery stores were bare of many common toiletries, basic medical items, and of course toilet paper and paper towels. I bought the last multi-pack of tissue boxes they had. My wife was texting me from home telling me to keep my eyes open as the supplies were all gone there.

We loaded up in my SUV for the drive home. Not just my buddy and I who had driven out together but another teammate hitching a ride back, as well as our billiards league president and his wife, who didn’t want to risk another night in Vegas and maybe having their flight canceled the next day.

As we left the city limits at dusk there was a storm in the distance to the east over the mountains, with occasional flashes of lightning. A beautiful, complete double-rainbow amazed us all from the same direction. And the radio station dedicated to people on the highway towards and from Las Vegas had their classic rock lineup interrupted so the Governor of Nevada could announce Las Vegas was shutting down. Hotels and casinos would cease all operations in just a few short hours. Everything was to shut down by his order. COVID was upon us and we needed to bend the curve of new cases to ensure hospitals weren’t overwhelmed.

The drive home was pretty quiet. Inside the car we were all disappointed the world tournament was cancelled and none of us got to play in our team events. I suspect everyone was slightly in shock – Las Vegas could just shut down? Just like that? Outside the roads were quiet as well. We passed by deserted truck stops and hotels with empty parking lots.

A year later. My wife and I sit in a pub in St. Louis. Masks everywhere, even though regulations in the City have relaxed in the past week or so. Restaurants can seat people indoors if they maintain social distancing and limit the number of customers they allow in. Back home our county has dropped out of the most severe tier of COVID urgency. Things appear to be easing back towards normality but the news feed is full of warnings of a third wave of COVID likely as restrictions ease and a population exhausted by a year of isolation champs at the bit to get back out and be with each other again. Overseas Europe and Asia are reporting spikes in COVID numbers and renewed and more vigorous restrictions.

None of us thought we would be here a year ago. We hoped and prayed things would go back to normal in a few weeks. They haven’t. And if things keep on at the current rate, normality is a long way off. A new level of fear and paranoia grips people. The airports we flew in and out of barked at everyone to keep their masks on and stay six feet away from each other, but we were seated shoulder to shoulder on the airplanes (masked, of course). Now that the election is history all the news stations seem able to talk about is COVID. News reports are beginning to admit what was obvious all along but nobody wanted to say – the vaccines are an uncertain bulwark against the virus, and even if they function as well as intended, people are going to need to get used to annual booster shots, similar to flu shots. Frankly we’ll be lucky if we only need one booster a year. I’m guessing we’ll be told to get at least two.

The world has changed. Not for the better. You don’t hear much of the ridiculous blather that was pushed early on in COVID, about how we’re all in this together and we’re working together for the good of the people. We weren’t. We aren’t. We’re tired and exhausted. Some people are terrified still and others are throwing all caution to the wind. The toll this all has and continues to take will only unfold fully over the next decade of more, ensuring multiple generations of social scientists of all stripes have plenty to dissect and analyze and hypothesize about. And the list of core memory moments in my lifetime increases from Reagan being shot and the Challenger blowing up and 9/11 to include COVID and a year-plus of trying to be a source of assurance in the midst of chaos, of calling people back to the Word of God that transcends all things, and has itself sustained many, many generations through far worse disasters and atrocities than this.

We are still here. And those with the Word know where we’re headed. May we all have the strength and grace and peace of God to know He’ll bring us there in his timing and his way.

Reading Ramblings – March 21, 2021

March 14, 2021

Date: Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 21, 2021

Texts: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 119:9-16; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10: 32-45

Context: God does things not only differently but, within the context of human experience and history, sometimes new. But his newness is never random innovation but a furthering of what has been the plan in place from the beginning. One covenant becomes old and a new covenant arrives, but a new covenant already foreshadowed in the oldest stories of God’s people. The kingdom of God inaugurates a new way of being among its citizens, but that new way of being is actually the way we were created in the first place, and we are not so much adopting new ways of life as being restored to our first ways.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 – Jeremiah is the longest of the prophetic writings with the exception of Isaiah, and we know more about Jeremiah than we do any of the other prophets, with most of that information contained within Jeremiah itself. He was called to the prophetic ministry in roughly 627 BC and continued in that role until perhaps 587 BC, for a career of 40 years or so. We aren’t sure how old he was when he began, but not likely older than 20. He might have ties to David’s priest Abiathar, whom Solomon exiled in favor of Zadok. All of which might mean Jeremiah has links to the former northern kingdom (Abiathar was a descendant of Eli), which might explain his affinity for themes common to other northern prophets such as Hosea. In this reading Jeremiah conveys the promises of God of a new covenant, a new relationship between God and his people. But it seems to indicate the relationship that will exist once Christ has returned and final judgment has taken place, when the faithful of God will continue in eternal, perfect fellowship with him, where He will truly be their God and they will truly be his people. All of them will know God personally and for themselves, and will no longer need to be taught who God is.

Psalm 119:9-16– We read from one of the acrosstic psalms, this sectio headed by the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, beth. The theme of this section is harmonious with the rest of the psalm which is an extended meditation on the Word of God. Would we desire to be free from sin (or more so than we are now)? How else than by the study of God’s Word and the applying of it’s precepts can this be accomplished? This is not simply study and academic or theological mastery but an applied use of this knowledge in order to guard our way – our lives. It isn’t – generally speaking – that we don’t know enough of God’s Word. Rather, the bigger problem is our unwillingness to live it out. Therefore the psalmist prays for God to keep him from wandering as we are prone to do (v.10). The psalmist is indeed a student of the Word of God, and describes the many ways he treasures it in vs.12-16. But the key is that all of this study and proclamation are applied in his own life, that I might not sin against you (v.11).

Hebrews 5:1-10 – We could spend time talking about the beautiful theology here that describes Jesus as the greatest last and only perfect high priest, the one who can – like human high priests of old – empathize with us in our sinfulness because He too was tempted. But unlike other priests, the one who himself is not sinful and therefore can atone for us perfectly and fully in his own sacrifice. Great stuff. But let’s be honest, what most people are immediatley captivated by is Melchizedek. So go ahead and read through Genesis 14. We meeet Melchizedek starting in verse 18. We are told first that he is a king, and secondly that he is a priest of God Most High. These roles are not combined when God allows for kings to rule his people later on. But Melchizedek is both. Not only is he both, he is king of Salem, which we would link to Jerusalem, meaning that a full millenium before David conquers Jerusalem and makes it his capital, Jerusalem is already ruled by a devotee of the Most High God. Moreover, this king provides Abram with bread and wine, which our minds link to the Last Supper and the bread and wine of the new covenant in Jesus Christ. That’s all we know about Melchizedek, other than a brief mention in Psalm 110, which in turn is quoted by Paul (most likely) in Hebrews. Rather than try to discern the mystery in this person, I like to focus on this reality – the Bible tells the story of God’s people as ancestors of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. It does not necessarily tell us about all of God’s people, or all the things we might be curious to know about the Holy Spirit’s work. If we despair that God’s people seem to be dwindling, we ought to remember the Holy Spirit is bound to surprise all of us not simply with how He does things but what He’s doing and how far reaching it is!

Mark 10:32-45 – The opening two verses of this reading are considered optional in the lectionary but I think they provide good context for the main reading assignment. For the third and final time in Mark’s gospel, Jesus provides his followers with an glimpse of what lies ahead. I love the way Mark talks about those traveling with Jesus. His disciples are amazed, but the larger group of followers that trail behind are afraid. What is the cause of the disciples amazement? The previous sections of the chapter don’t seem to point clearly to an answer, unless they are contemplating the hundredfold promise of recompense in eternal life. And if this is the case, perhaps we can understand James and John’s request more clearly. They want glory, but they want the highest glory, which in that day was indicated by nearness to the host at a banquet. The closer you sat to the host, the more honored you were.

It’s easy to take offense at their request, to see it as a self-serving move of glory. But perhaps there is another aspect. James and John believe what Jesus says. They believe that Jesus will truly reign. They believe He is the true and eternal king, and their request takes this at face value. We know you will rule forever and we look forward to that reality so firmly that we already know where we want to sit at the celebration banquet table!

Like the other disciples it is easy to be indignant with them. But perhaps their honesty is simply blowing our own cover. Who among us does not expect – or at least hope – to be seated in a place of honor in the kingdom of heaven? Who among us is truly free of even the smallest shred of ego or pride of place? Perhaps it would be better to be more honest about that and hear Jesus’ response to James and John as a response to our own ambitions. Jesus doesn’t get to decide who is most honored in the Kingdom of Heaven after himself. God the Father is handling the seating chart, and therefore we should trust that wherever we end up sitting, it will be glorifying first and foremost to God, and will in no way be able to be construed in any way as a slight or derogatory statement about us.

Reading Ramblings – March 14, 2021

March 7, 2021

Date: Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 14, 2021

Texts: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Context: The solution to our sinful condition must come from God alone. We are not capable of adequate repentance or changes in our lives to merit God’s love and favor in and of ourselves. As much as we dislike our situation we are powerless to change it. Therefore we must depend always and only on God’s Word of grace to us rather than looking to ourselves for justification, for evidence we are worthy. There is no worthiness in ourselves, but we are made worthy to the glory of God when we receive the gift of the Son of God’s blood on our behalf.

Numbers 21:4-9 – Another passage of God’s people complaining about God’s lack of provision for them. It might be somewhat unremarkable, but part of the remarkableness of this passage is not simply the matter of poisonous snakes and God’s rescue of his ungrateful children, but the passage immediately before it. The chapter opens with some of God’s people being taken captive by a hostile kingdom. They ask God to allow them to free their friends and family and God grants this. We see a more appropriate relationship between the people of God and their God, relying on him for deliverance and remaining faithful to their promises to him. They understand it is God providing for them and are grateful for it – the complete opposite of our reading for today. It helps make what might otherwise seem a rather harsh response from God a bit more understandable. How short our memories are! How quickly we are to perceive a lack of care on God’s part, and in other moments to be completely trusting! Yet God’s people eventually return to trust, albeit after a somewhat painful experience!

Psalm 107:1-9 – The psalmist calls God’s people immediately to an affirmation of God’s goodness and his enduring, steadfast love (v.1). We are reminded of how He has saved us and gathered us together (vs.2-3). But that doesn’t mean we never deal with difficult things. Israel’s wilderness wanderings are remembered in vs.4-5. There were definitely times when, by their eyes and measures, God had no idea what He was doing and seemed to be leading them to their death. God’s people are called not just to remember the difficulty though, but how God provided for them, ultimately establishing them in a city rather than leading them endlessly through a wilderness (v.7). God is to be praised for this specific example of his goodness and steadfast love, one of several examples the psalmist will allude to. The psalmist will end (v.43) as he begins, calling the faithful to recall not simply their difficulties – we’re naturally inclined to do that! – but also God’s steadfast love.

Ephesians 2:1-10 – Reliance on ourselves is no such thing. Any time we are not reliant on God we can be assured we are relying on Satan. We would still be relying on Satan were it not for the grace of God brought to us by God the Holy Spirit, who presents to us God the Son on the cross for us. Our life stems from Christ’s death. This offering was made before we were even aware of it – before we were even born, frankly. God’s solution to our sinful slavery to Satan stands objectively in history and need not be questioned. Nor need anything more be added to it. Like the Israelites in the Old Testament reading, we only have the choice of whether to trust God’s Word. Do we believe He can and will save us from our sin, or will we die in our stubborn rejection? Our salvation is not our doing – not even our faith is our doing. We either trust God’s Word or we don’t. If we do, then the love of God in Jesus Christ is what saves us, as it becomes subjective – to and for us. And if we don’t trust God, it doesn’t change the reality of what He has done for us, but rather shows how we refused. But we should never doubt that God desires we trust him, and trust that his love towards us is real and true and good and that regardless of who we have been in the past, He is ready to work with us and through us to further his plans and his glory.

John 3:14-21 – Jesus allows Nicodemus to engage him in discussion but Nicodemus’ apparent confusion is no deterrent to Jesus disclosing who He is and why He has come. What God did on a smalll scale for his people in the wilderness – saving them from serpent venom – He will do on the large scale through Jesus, lifting his Son up on the cross that any and all who look to him in hope might live. Jesus is provided as the cure to our sinfulness. His presence in that respect is one of salvation, not judgment. The judgment is already in place. Sin is already at work in our bodies. He does not introduce anything new into the equation in terms of our condition. We are no worse off with Jesus here. Rather, He provides the alternative to the natural ramifications of the sin in us, just as the bronze serpent in the wilderness offered an alternative to the natural ramifications of deadly venom in the bloodstream. The judgment of God has already been rendered on a sinful creation, and that judgment is guilty. There is no one who does not fall under this judgment both in terms of being brought sinful into the world and in their own sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. The poison is already working in us. Will we trust the promises of God the Father in Jesus the Christ that faith and trust in his death and resurrection will remove the poison and save our lives?

Every person who encounters must answer this fundamental question – who is Jesus of Nazareth? He leaves three options to choose from, as C.S. Lewis once observed. He might be a lunatic, a crazed man with delusions of grandeur. He might be an evil man, knowing he is lying outright and that his lies will likely lead to his own death as well as the deaths of those around him. Those could both be options, unlike the popular alternative, that Jesus was a good teacher who was misunderstood. Good teachers don’t claim to come from God to deliver people from their sins! He’s either a liar, a lunatic, or the third option – Lord. Maybe He is exactly who He claims to be, and does exactly what He asserts He does for us.

This is the question each person must answer about Jesus. And a liar or a lunatic can’t save us from our brokenness. Only a Lord can do that.